60th Berlin Film Festival, February 11-21, 2010
The Berlin Film Festival and accompanying European Film Market is another festival IÕve attended each year since 1992. This festival, more than any other, was my film school way back when—it was here I learned how to evaluate film for a global market; who the global players were; what it meant to be a real film journalist, and even screening room etiquette. Before anyone hired me in the film business, the Berlinale was my winter home.
If Sundance is frenetic, and Cannes exhausting, then the Berlinale is cinematically invigorating.
DonÕt get me wrong, the European Film Market does trash cinema as well as anyone else, and the Germans can be frustratingly unyielding (to say the least), but there is something dynamic and stimulating about debating the merits of a national cinema with distributors from a dozen countries, or sitting with 3,000 film critics at the 8:30am press screening (Italians ahead of me, Russians down front, the Brits behind—after nearly twenty years youÕd think we might move around a little in the theater, but no) who arenÕt at all shy about booing a bad movie, or celebrating at a filmmaker dinner with other festivals regulars like Walter Salles, Gael Garcia Bernal, Tilda Swinton to name a few at the surrounding tables.
As a festival with an attached film market, the Berlinale is less a tourist-audience destination spot and more of a working filmmakerÕs winter conference. Buyers, sellers, producers, publicists, filmmakers, and other festival programmers make up the bulk of the industry attending.
The festival move to Potsdamer Platz in 2000, after the re-unification of Germany, centralizes all the activity of both the festival and the market. While the Berlinale does have a public audience component with screenings across town, the bulk of the industry work happens in the lobbies of the Ritz Carlton and Grand Hyatt as well as the Martin-Gropius-Bau (home of the EFM, a short walk or free shuttle ride away)—all within a couple of blocks of each other and the film theaters in Potsdamer Platz.
Festival attendees are split into two main groups—those that stay near Potsdamer Platz (and frequent restaurants next to the festival or nearby in the former East), and those who still stay in the old neighborhood of the festival before the move.
The old neighborhood includes festival stalwarts as the Savoy Hotel, the favored hangout Quasimodo Cafˇ at the Delphi (a cinema, cafe and renowned underground jazz club all under one roof), The Paris Bar, and the former festival flagship cinema, the Zoo Palast. Some festival filmmaker guests are still booked at the Savoy and a contingency of film journalists can be found on any given night at the Quasimodo, making this a good satellite from the festival center.
The ŅnewÓ neighborhood has more concentration of meeting places within Potsdamer Platz, but itÕs easy to get very tired of the Platz when working 12-14 hours a day there. I prefer filmmaker dinners and dinner meetings at Ristorante Sale e Tabacchi (Kochstrasse 18, Berlin www.sale-e-tabacchi.de ), a festival favorite. Always lively, with great food, this is a prime spot to see and be seen during the festival. Located around the corner from the real Checkpoint Charlie, donÕt let the address confuse the taxi driver. Kochstrasse 18 is also known as Rudi-Dutschke-Strasse 23, depending on the newness of the map you are consulting.
Within the Platz itself, any of the restaurants are good meeting places, although I tend to visit DiekmannÕs most often for dinner (across from the Grand Hyatt at Alte Potsdamer Strasse 5, in Weinhaus Huth Tel: + 49 30 25 29 75 24) and Lutter & Wegner most often for lunch (across from the Ritz Carlton at 1, am Potsdamer Platz (Kaisersaal), Tel: + 49 30 26 39 03 82). The ever present Starbucks across from the Berlin Palast is an easy breakfast before the early screenings.
Berlinale accommodations are pretty straightforward, most attendees have their favorites and stick to them year after year. For those with expense accounts and the ability to book early, the Ritz Carlton, Grand Hyatt, and Mandala Hotels are all in Potsdamer Platz and make life very easy. However, as the bus and subway system in Berlin is the easiest in the world, for budget-minded filmmakers I recommend Hotel Johann (www.hotel-johann-berlin.de Johanniterstra§e 8 10961 Kreuzberg, Berlin, +49 30 2250740), a ten minute bus ride away, as the rooms are terrific, rates more than reasonable, and the included breakfast outstanding.
For the 2009 Berlinale I represented four films, three for Robbie Little of The Little Film Company (http://thelittlefilmcompany.com ) including I Know You Know, Cherrybomb and the Davis Guggenheim documentary It Might Get Loud, as well as the World Premiere of a quietly beautiful American Indie called Marin Blue from filmmakers Matthew Hysell and Erin OÕHara (www.marinbluemovie.com ) playing in the Forum.
I was extremely proud to be on the Marin Blue team, especially as it was Matthew and ErinÕs debut feature film and first festival experience. The Forum audiences are much more public than other sections of the festival: these films tend to be more cinematic than mainstream, making them tough pick-ups for the buyers however German audiences love them. Marin Blue got a theatrical release through Arsenal in Germany from the screenings.
I also loved working with Robbie Little and his team Clay Epstein and MJ Peckos. Particularly fun was the red carpet European Premiere of It Might Get Loud with U2Õs The Edge (and band mate Adam Clayton who came to see the film and support Edge) and the press day with Director Davis Guggenheim.
All of this demanded deep cooperation with the Berlinale Press and Hospitality Offices which are very well oiled machines. From airport transfers to red carpets to press conferences, the offices have systems in place that stay on schedule down to the minute. Filmmakers brought into the festival, escorted through it, and delivered out with precision. Filmmakers with distribution, who have press days in addition to their festival appearances, will need to have two sets of publicists—as in Cannes with French press—a German publicist for all German press and their main publicist for all international press.
Emerging filmmakers will have success using the Berlinale as an addition to their film education—either through the Berlinale Talent Campus (if invited, this is a great way to enter the festival family and rapidly expand your film network at the same time) or by attending as a film student. The Berlinale Co-Production market continues to strive for a break-out success, but considering the proximity of Rotterdam Film FestivalÕs CineMart and the half-hearted attempts to merge the two, the struggle continues.
ItÕs easy at the Berlinale to soak up information and knowledge just by being there and listening to people talk. As an attendee, itÕs simple to immerse yourself with the global industry (even if you donÕt recognize who they are) and overheard conversations are always illuminating. The sheer volume of programmed films makes it impossible to see everything, but as a pass-holder you can get 4-5 films in each day if you spread yourself across sections—although you do have to read the fine print about picking up tickets a day ahead of time (depending on your pass type itÕs highly likely youÕll never see an 8:30am movie as youÕll be stuck in the ticket request line instead).
2010 will be a watershed year for all film festivals after the 2008/09 dramatic drop in festival attendance. Expect more on the Berlin Film Festival here, in February, 2010.